Red Hot Chili Peppers ex-drummer, Cliff Martinez, opens up

Cliff Martinez (Photo/Robert Charles Mann, 2011)

Cliff Martinez (Photo/Robert Charles Mann, 2011)

Cliff Martinez, one of the veteran drummers for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and an award-winning film composer, started off 2012 with a bang. He was a judge in last month’s Sundance Film Festival, and in April he will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his formative three year stint with the Chili Peppers from 1983-86.

“I’m just worried about what I am going to wear,” says Martinez about as casually, but as humbly, as if he were a friendly, unimposing neighbor asking for advice. “My role is quite small in the span of 27 years. I’m honored that they made the decision to include me.”

Although Martinez calls himself an introvert, it’s not hard to knock down any walls he may have up. He rather welcomes you warmly into his world of hidden surprises – such as did you know that his first composing job was for Pee Wee’s Playhouse? And, can you believe he does not know how to compose music on staff paper?

“I never had training,” says Martinez. “I really learned as I went. I’m almost completely self-taught. In my film career, I tried to fill in some of the gaps in my background. But mostly I’m a musical Neanderthal.”

His grandfather immigrated from a small village in Spain to the U.S., but Martinez was raised in an English-speaking household in Ohio. After more than three decades of living in Los Angeles, Martinez, 58, now considers the City of Angels his home.

He says his favorite part of drumming for the Chili Peppers’ first two albums were making the records.

“I went through the lifestyle of smoke-filled vans and traveling,” says Martinez. “I didn’t enjoy that much, but I did enjoy the recording process and making music.”

He says he also learned during that time, while collaborating with George Clinton, that unintended accidents in music can result in unexpected gems.

“When we were overdubbing guitar parts, there was a mistake and George said play that back,” says Martinez. “It was definitely a mistake, and George says, ‘No that’s the funk, let’s cut it up and fly it around elsewhere in the track.”

Martinez says that although he enjoyed his time with the band, he felt he never fully fit in.

“For me it was a tough thing to fit into socially,” says Martinez. “We could never come to an agreement on our look…basic issues of band image.”

As he grew out of the band, Martinez says he became fascinated with music technology in the 1980’s.

“Music technology got me started,” says Martinez. “Pop music always felt very narrow to me. Film felt much broader. My taste in music was always left of center.”

He says his favorite album is “Trought Mask Replica” by Captain Beefheart, which he had the honor of working with as well. Now, instead of traveling the country in smokey vans, Martinez happily spends a lot of his time waiting on his couch for inspiration.

“I usually lay on the couch and stare at the ceiling for a few weeks just thinking what general approach I would take,” says Martinez about what he does when a director approaches him to compose a score for a film. “I don’t know where the inspiration comes from, sometimes it comes in front of a keyboard, but sometimes washing the dishes or driving a car.”

He says the process for creating a score ranges from about one to three months, and the director is usually hands on as well. He is currently working on “Only God Forgives,” set in Thailand, with director Nicolas Winding Refn.

(Photo/Cliff Martinez)

(Photo/Cliff Martinez)

“I think the favorite spot I’ve ever composed in was in a hotel room in Thailand,” says Martinez. “I placed Singha beer cans to prop up my 15-inch laptop and miniature keyboard.”

He says nowadays you don’t really need a big studio to compose film scores.

“You don’t need a lot of equipment anymore,” says Martinez. “I met Nicholas Refn for dinner, and he said ‘I hate L.A. I’m going to Copenhagen,’ and so we spoke via Skype. In 2009-10, I did two French films, and I didn’t even meet the director. We just communicated telepathically.”

Martinez says the work he’s most proud of is the score for “Solaris” (2002), because it was the first time he used a 90-piece orchestra, and it is the only one he can still listen to and it still feels new and fresh.

“I’d like to think of myself as versatile, but I might fall on my face if I tried to do Broadway or a cereal commercial,” he says.

For now, he’s concentrating on speaking at SXSW (South by Southwest) in March – 10 days of conferences and festivals where filmmakers and musicians unite to discuss the most influential cultural happenings of the year. He says it seems most people want to know about the soundtrack he did for “Drive” (2011).

“Public speaking is one of my phobias, but I’ll make sure I dress for the occasion,” says Martinez.

Originally published on

The Sundance Film Festival through the eyes of a juror

Filmmaker Alex Rivera (Courtesy Alex Rivera)

Filmmaker Alex Rivera (Courtesy Alex Rivera)

Now that the Sundance Festival is over, Alex Rivera gives us an inside peek to what it’s like to judge one of the most respected international film festivals. Digital media artist and filmmaker, Rivera, went from being a Sundance winner for his film “Sleep Dealer in 2008 to a juror last week.

“Being invited to be a judge is a complete honor and a privilege,” says Rivera who understands first-hand the complexity of what goes into filmmaking. “It takes about one hour and a half to watch a film, but it takes an average of six years to make. So as a filmmaker I feel very sensitive to that. It’s hard to judge, because you know how much goes into it.”

This is the second time Rivera, 38, has been chosen to serve on the Alfred P. Sloan Jury. The first time was in 2009, the year after his sci-fi thriller “Sleep Dealer,” a tale about immigration in a militarized futuristic world where borders are closed and technology takes over, won the prize of the same name. It also won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and was picked up by Maya Entertainment for U.S. distribution that same year.

The Sloan Award is presented to an outstanding feature film that focuses on science or technology as a theme, or depicts a scientist, engineer, or mathematician as a major character. This year, “Robot & Frank,” directed by Jake Schreier and written by Christopher Ford, and “Valley of Saints,” directed and written by Musa Syeed, tied for the win. The two films will split the $20,000 cash award by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Rivera says the two winning films couldn’t be more different stories, but they were both innovative in the way they were told.

“When I go to Sundance, I want to see people taking risks and breaking new ground,” says Rivera. That’s why there should be festivals. People can try new things and take big risks, while making sure it’s well made. I saw a lot of that this year.”

He compares being on the Sundance jury to being on a jury in a courtroom, except instead of 12 jurors, there are five.

“You travel together to screening to screening over a few days,” recalls Rivera. “You get to know each other, and then comes the moment of truth when you come to a decision.”

Sundance critically chooses individuals from a variety of backgrounds to make sure to get different points of view.

“The jury I was on was half scientists and half filmmakers,” says Rivera. “There was a guy from Berkeley who builds robots, and a woman from Rutgers who studied the brain.”

Rivera mentioned that two of his favorite Latino films that he had the opportunity to see during the festival were “Mosquita y Mari,” and “Filly Brown.”

“Gina is shining like a light right now,” he says. “’Filly Brown’ is sensational and bold and filled with contrast and drama. ‘Mosquita y Mari’ is more subtle and feels more like the kind of quiet life that most of us live, but both are really striking because they showcase Latina talent at their core.”

This is an example of how he says two films can be polar opposites but equally poignant.

“When you find that contrast, it gives me hope that we’re going to see a wide variety of Latino stories in the future,” says Rivera. “But we are still far from where we should be. We are the largest minority in the U.S., so we should have a film in the movie theater every week…We should radically be telling our stories. There is a long way to go.”

Currently, Rivera is working on a TV series and a follow-up feature film to “Sleep Dealer.”

Originally published on